Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ethnic Studies

Currently there is a lot of weight being thrown about in Tucson over the ethnic studies program. So let me explain it to those of you who don't live here. Ethnic studies is a program with several classes designed to study in depth several ethnic groups. As far as I can tell, Tucson only offers Mexican-American or Latino studies. If there are any classes involving say Asian-Americans or African-Americans, I haven't heard about them. The state of Arizona is talking about eliminating the program because of several controversies: 1) it promotes over-throwing the government because it views Arizona as rightly belonging to Mexico 2) it promotes hatred to another racial group ie European, Anglo, or Caucasian Americans and 3) it promotes a specific ethnic group and solidarity within that group rather than promoting dialogue and the individual. The school board in Tucson is currently seeking to make Ethnic studies an elective class only. Currently students can take a class such as Mexican-American studies in lo of social studies for credit. Proponents of ethnic studies view this as TUSD (Tucson Unified School Districts) way of slowly eliminating the program.

Okay so those are the facts and here is my opinion. Make it an elective only. Several reasons. When I was in college I was required to take a social studies course. I'm sure these highschool soon to be college students will also have to take a social studies course. It's a lot easier to take a basic course if you have already been exposed to the material in highschool. Social studies should be a requirement and a pre-requisite to any ethnic studies course.

Revamp the program. I'm inclined to agree that the ethnic studies program is sowing seeds of hatred. While I think it's good for students to learn about their heritage, it's also good for them to learn about somebody else's. In Mississippi, we were required to take a Mississippi studies course which talked about the history, geography, and cultural aspects of Mississippi. My teacher was black. The school is mostly white. I had the highest average that year and got the school award. It was good and I learned a lot about my state. I didn't spend my time promoting my southern white heritage. And Arizona can do something similar if they don't have a class like that already.

In that vain, I notice that the only people protesting this enactment are predominately Hispanic students, teachers, and parents. If there was a Anglo-American studies class, I'm sure they would be protesting it as racist. But since the class is Mexican-American studies, a class that teaches about minorities in our country, it's not seen the same way. There also isn't an Asian-American or African-American class that I've seen discussed. Nor are there any protesters from those two racial groups. This is why I think there are problems with the Ethnic Studies program.

If my son wanted to learn about his European heritage or have a class for it, I think people would protest especially since he has German roots. I think it would be funny, however, since his German ancestry has been in the United States prior to WWII. Many of his family served in the War. His family settled in a region called "Little Germany" because of the high German population. Most of the town spoke German, not English, until the War broke out. Since many German-Americans were afraid to be associated with Nazism, they stopped speaking German at home. If you go there today, they speak English although a few people still speak German. I don't think there's an Ethnic studies class for that. Although there may be a good history course that talks about his ancestor John Colter, who went on the Lewis and Clark expeditions as well as discovered Yellow Stone National Park. That's also an interesting story, but again there's no Ethnic Studies course on that.

While I understand that much of the Mexican-American story is lost in history books, I think the program needs revision and perhaps integration into the regular history classroom or a state studies program. And that's my two cents.

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